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Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon Hardcover – March 1, 2005
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"Preaching that conforms to the pattern set here will certainly be edifying."
About the Author
Bryan Chapell, (PhD, Southern Illinois University) is senior pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Peoria, Illinois. He previously served as president and professor of practical theology at Covenant Theological Seminary. He is much sought after as a speaker in churches and conferences around the country and is the author of several books.
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Chapell begins his book by providing the reader with the basic understanding of the importance of the Word in preaching. Also in this first part of the book, he works to define his terms (i.e. expository preaching, FCF, ect.), and establish components of exposition as well. The Fallen Condition Focus (FCF) is an important aspect for the reader, for the author continually refers to it in subsequent chapters. Chapell defines it as, “the mutual human condition that contemporary believers share with those to or about whom the text was written that requires the grace of the passage for God’s people to glorify and enjoy him (50).” The author concludes that the preacher must know the FCF in order to really know what the passage is about, even if facts of the passage are known (51). These facets make-up the first part of his book titled, “Principles for Expository Preaching.”
Part two, which is titled, “Preparation of Expository sermons” delineate the process of putting a sermon together. These chapters could be characterized as the “nuts and bolts” chapters. The author answers many of the ‘how?’ and ‘why?’ questions concerning the process of how to put an expository sermon together. Chapell begins by walking the preacher through the six questions he should pose in preparing a message on a passage (104). Next, Chapell writes about the different types of outlining and structuring of sermons. Additionally, there are chapters on the different components of the sermon like, illustration and application. He provides helpful dos and don’ts for each part of the sermon. Finally, Chapell ends this section teaching his readers how to give a proper introduction and conclusion to a sermon. In this section, the author argues the preacher should explain in the introduction why hearers need to listen, which then indicates the need of the FCF in the intro (241).
The third part of Chapell’s book focuses on the theology of a Christ-centered message. In this short section, the author makes an argument for a redemptive approach to preaching. Based upon the FCF, this principle allows the preacher to direct every sermon to the redemption elements of Scripture because all Scripture can apply to our fallenness (273). Wrapping up the main body of the book, the author walks the reader through the development of a redemptive sermon by showing the dos and don’ts of this approach. Chapell ends the book with twelve helpful appendixes which cover topics such as, the philosophy of delivery and dress, a philosophy of style, methods of presentation and preparation, special occasion messages and a sample sermon of his.
In a positive light, the title and drive of his book (i.e. expository sermons should be “Christ-centered”) is supported biblically by Jesus’ words in Lk. 24:27. Chapell’s thesis is also supported within the wider biblical meta-narrative. Beginning with the protoevangelium of Gen. 3:15, the Old Testament seems to have messianic threads throughout the Scriptures, which points to God’s salvific plan in history.
There are several other components of Christ-Centered Preaching that the author provides biblical support for. For example, Chapell finds biblical support for his famous FCF in 2 Tim. 3:16-17 (52). Additionally, in the section regarding application, the author provides 1 Cor. 10:6-13 and Rom. 4:23-25 to persuade the reader that his method is derived from the Scriptures (214, 271). With regards to the importance of application, Chapell says, “[t]he sermon itself is a ‘redemptive event,’ a present tool of the Spirit to transform listeners’ minds, hears, and wills (139).” This idea not only supports the importance of application, but seems to mimic the New Testament author’s perspective of living the Christian life. In other words, Chapell mirrors the notion the apostles had in the 1st century and that 21st century preachers should have, which is, we are living out the metanarrative of God’s redemptive plan. This, added to the broad biblical support for Chapell’s ideas, indicates that he is simply following the biblical authors in his desire to feed God’s sheep.
Secondly, his definition of expository preaching is desirable compared to others that have been presented in the past. Chapell gives a technical definition by saying an expository sermon, “requires that it expound Scripture by deriving from a specific text main points and subpoints that disclose the thought of the author, cover the scope of the passage, and are applied to the lives of the listeners (129).” The author does not limit expository preaching to a specific hermeneutical type, but simply states the expounding of the Scripture must be in accord with authorial intent, which would include typological interpretation. Chapell develops a concept from his definition by saying, “As expository preachers, our ultimate goal is not to communicate the value of our opinions, others’ philosophies, or speculative meditations but rather to show how God’s Word discloses his will for those united to him through his Son (31).” This noble aspiration of Chapell does not presuppose a hermeneutical method before the text is even considered nor does it limit, hermeneutically, who fits into the camp of expositors.
Along similar lines, Chapell presents many of his ideas in a non-dogmatic fashion. Several times the author reminds the reader that much of what he is teaching can be done differently. For example, concerning how one should divide the components of his sermon, the author writes, “Differences among congregations…require pastors to vary the proportions of the expositional components (91).” Also, when it comes to outlining, Chapell is simply suggesting methods and wants preachers and students to consider the composition of a sermon as a symphony that “cannot be confined to one form (161).” With so much dogmatism with regards to method and structure, it is refreshing to read that Chapell designates his views as “tools of the trade (161)."
A part of the author’s theology behind his preaching leads him to warn against “the deadly be’s.” This is a unique aspect of the book, which he warns by saying, “[t]hey exhort believers to strive to ‘be’ something in order to be loved by God (289). This concept should be seriously considered before a sermon is preached. The consequences of such sermons is laid out by Chapell (294), but the thought that gets to the heart of what he is saying is found when he writes, “[h]owever well intended, these sermons present a faith indistinguishable from that of morally conscientious Muslims, Unitarians, Buddhists, or Hindus. The distinction of the Christian faith is that God provides the way to himself because we cannot make our way to him (294).” The distinguishing aspect of the Christian minister is Christ-centered preaching.
Lastly, the content of the appendixes was an excellent touch at the end. These snippets of insight are great reference points for beginning preachers and can serve to help form the opinion of those looking to pursue preaching as a vocation. Graphs, illustrations and tables add significantly to the presentation of the book and provide visual aids to the content the author is trying to communicate.
There are a couple of critiques that could be offered of the book. Organizationally, it seems that part three, “A Theology of Christ-Centered Message” would better serve the reader if it was part one of the book and subsequently the “Principles for Expository Preaching.” Many ideas he presents in the first part of the book connected more after I read part three of the book. For example, the FCF is presented mainly in part one of the book, but is fleshed-out pragmatically in part three (272). The author merely describes the FCF in part one, which leaves the reader questioning if they should accept this theory before seeing how it is worked out in practice. It is not until part three that the author shows biblically an example of a NT writer using the FCF concept (271). Furthermore, it seems more appropriate theology should always ground methodology. With the way Chapell presents his material, the reader may think that preaching methodology comes before theology.
One aspect of the book which troubled me was the pejorative way the author used the concept of an “academic” sermon (178). He writes, “yet many preachers consider the stories they tell to be a necessary evil that undermines the seriousness, scholarship and spiritual integrity of their messages. Such equivocation cannot be tolerated where souls are at stake (178).” This idea is tied to Chapell’s continual notion that sermons should be heavy on application and emphasis the FCF (48-49).
Chapell’s animosity towards sermons that emphasize teaching is seen clearly when he commits a non sequitur. He presents information from surveys saying “born-again” Christians have high rates of divorce, pornography addition and other moral failures. From there he makes the leap to say it has something to do with a lack of application in preaching (209-210). It simply does not follow that this is the case. Even if it was the reality, how are we to determine that Christian pornography addiction is due to lack of application? Could it not simply be said that the reason for the addiction is due to a lack of deep doctrinal understanding of idolatry or any other laxity of doctrine? Chapell’s motivation for providing application in sermons is a good one, but it would be most helpful to demonstrate this using biblical example rather than using “academic” in a pejorative way or worse falling prey to logical fallacies.
Even with those few criticisms, it must be said that the book should be on every preacher’s shelf. They should have a copy for themselves and also have copies available to give away to men in the congregation who feel called to ministry. It works as a good companion to similar works by Robinson and Stott. Chapell has aided ministers of the Gospel in significant ways by providing a helpful introduction to expository preaching.
As a layperson myself, but someone who does occasionally lead a Bible study or speak in a Sunday School class, the book has helped my preparation and thought process so I can bring more to the table when it's my turn to step up.
It can slow down a bit in parts, and there were a few pages that didn't seem to get to the point quite as fast as it could have, but overall it's a solid read that is absolutely recommended.
Chapell does a great job both equipping you with the mechanics of preaching as well as encouraging the right motivation for preaching. I have already benefited from his tips on introductions, conclusions, and having a single coherent focus for my talks.
One of the most helpful elements of sermon prep he suggests is coming up with a fallen condition focus. This helps you to identify what need the people in the passage had as a result of sin and how Christ addresses that need. This keeps the sermon relevant to the audience as you help them to see how their need is similar to those in the text. It also keeps you as the speaker focused on how Jesus meets that need which provides real hope to the audience.
His discussion of the importance of relevant, specific applications was also very helpful. I have received great feedback from the students I work with as I have applied his principles.(I work in campus ministry) I used to give vague application principles(trust Christ more) Now I spend time thinking of specific situations the students might struggle with.(trusting him during your conflict with your roommate, trusting him to provide for your school tuition, etc.)
The best thing about this book is that Chapell uses the principles he advocates in how he wrote it. For example he says we should use illustrations in sermons. In the book he often uses illustrations. I love authors who practice what they preach.